Isolation and distance drives innovation

Friday, 03 July, 2020

Isolation and distance drives innovation

BHP has announced that it is utilising remote communication technologies, including wearables, to assist its mechanics and technicians at remote mine sites. The latest wearable technology is enabling BHP’s teams in Perth to remotely assist auto electricians and mechanical fitters onsite 1300 km away.

Alex Bertram, Manager Digital Transformation at Western Australian Iron Ore (WAIO), said distance will soon no longer a boundary due to wearable mixed-reality devices like Microsoft’s HoloLens.

“When COVID-19 struck, our teams couldn’t travel from Perth to our sites in Western Australia so we improvised,” he said. “In mining, people FIFO (fly in, fly out). Some DIDO (drive in, drive out). Soon our teams will be able to RIRO, which stands for remote in, remote out.

“RIRO is essentially our teams providing remote assistance via live point-of-view video calls to our personnel onsite. Utilising cloud services and a mixed-reality headset device, our technicians on the frontline can call for help and technical support when they need it most — during critical breakdowns and when undertaking new or complex tasks.”

BHP’s WAIO mining and processing operations run at a high performance rate, leaving very little room for unexpected breakdowns and equipment downtime. When these situations do occur, sometimes a phone call or a video conference is not enough and people have to be flown to the site — a process that is costly and time-consuming.

According to the company, RIRO will allow its engineers, operators and technical experts in Perth, in site offices or wherever they may be in the world, to see what staff in the field see, in real time. They can then provide step-by-step guidance directly to the operator wearing the mixed-reality headset device, even sending them schematics or technical manuals.

Cristina Perbellini Silva, Manager Decision Automation in Technology, is now trialling the technology with the company’s rail teams at the Mooka Ore Car Repair Shop.

“Remote assist using mixed reality is the start of a promising journey — as we learn and adapt, we expect our teams will find new and novel ways to use the technology to improve safety and productivity,” she said. “During COVID-19, we have been able to move at an amazing velocity because we all have a clear goal and are empowered to make the right decisions — this helped us cut through the bureaucracy and red tape and implement solutions faster than we thought possible.”

BHP Minerals Australia Vice President of Technology Pat Bourke said the strength of this technology is its simplicity.

“We are using standard platforms and hardware that already exist,” he said. “What we are doing differently is thinking creatively. That’s where you can gain a competitive advantage, and I can see the RIRO way of working being a real game changer.

“During COVID-19, we’ve needed to think of innovative ways to have minimal amount of people in a group while still maintaining a safe operating workplace. Remote work using technology was always an option for us; however, COVID-19 has pushed us to really harness innovative technology and we will only continue to improve our productivity as we make it widely available and perfect its use.”

Image credit: © and Splits

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